Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Should I just go to court and plead guilty, with the help of the public defender, or just by representing myself?

Posted on: July 10, 2007 at 4:38 p.m.

Any decision to enter a plea in a criminal case should be very seriously considered. Often the consequences of a criminal conviction, even a misdemeanor such as a DUI, may impact someone's life for years to come. For example, a truck driver convicted for a first time DUI loses his privilege to operate a commercial vehicle for a year -- which translates a one year loss of income! Another example, a person pleads guily to a theft crime, and finds out years later that his or her hopes of becoming a U.S. citizen are destroyed. Finally, you must financially qualify as low-income to receive the legal services of the Public Defender's Office. If you do not financially qualify, you must hire your own attorney or represent yourself. In sum, before going to court, the Criminal Law Blog advises possible clients to not just take what appears to be (on the surface) the easy way by pleading guilty on the first court date, without the assistance of a qualified criminal defense lawyer.

Tagged as: california criminal laws

Charges in State Court v. Federal Court

Posted on: July 1, 2007 at 8:25 p.m.

Federal court cases are typically investigated by federal agencies, including the FBI, DEA, Customs, Treasury, and other federal agencies. Sometimes state and local agencies also file charges in federal court if the offenses involve major quantity of drugs, weapons or other contraband. The federal government has more resources to prosecute cases, including special units to prosecute drugs, fraud, and violent crimes. While the state and local government also has special units, they have fewer prosecutors, with larger case loads. Also, local law enforcement does not have nearly an many resources to complete investigations with as much thoroughness as federal law enforcement. For the most part, it is definitely in a criminal defendant's interest to be prosecuted in state, rather than federal court. The state of California's sentencing system has more flexibility in terms of alternative sentencing options than the United States Sentencing Guidelines. In one large drug cases, a criminal defense attorney had his client cooperate with the police in exchange for the case to be presented to the state, rather than federal authorities for prosecution

Tagged as: california criminal laws, federal law and defense, high profile defense

I just received a letter from the LAPD asking me to call a detective about a hit and run accident I was involved in. What should I do?

Posted on: July 1, 2007 at 6:21 p.m.

The criminal offense commonly known as Hit and Run is a violation of the Vehicle Code, which requires all drivers involved in a car accident to stop, and exchange information. If there are injuries, the offense may be prosecuted as a felony, as the law considers leaving the scene of an accident without rendering aid to an injured party as felonious conduct (which carries a maximim of a year in the county jail, or three years in prison). Often, LAPD or other investigating agencies will send a letter to the driver that left the scene of the accident, or the vehicle's owner, asking them to contact a detective. This is when a lawyer could be of great help! By speaking to the police, without an attorney, you may be incriminating yourself. Many feel they can talk their way out of it: "I stopped, but then left because there was no damage" or "the other party said it is no big deal and we dont need to exchange information." The frequent outcome of legal self-help is charges being filed. The next letter the person gets is: "you are now required to be in court to answer criminal charges." If a criminal defense lawyer is hired before a detective investigates the case, he or she may prevent charges from being filed, simply because the police may have insufficient evidence to prove the suspect is the driver without the suspect's statement. The Criminal Law Blog's defense attorneys have prevented charges from being filed, or, if they are filed, they have caused them to be dismissed through appropriate provisions in the Penal Code.

Tagged as: california criminal laws, faq

Drug Addiction and Criminality: Alternative Sentencing Options

Posted on: June 28, 2007 at 6:20 a.m.

The obvious and sad reality is that addiction often leads to criminal behavior including theft, drug sales, DUI, and other more serious violations. There are numerous drug programs in Southern California, in-patient and out-patient, available to treat drug and alcohol addiction. Often the Criminal Law Blog has used these programs as an alternative to jail or prison for clients in custody, as part of the Alternative Sentecing scheme available under California law which includes Deferred Entry of Judgement, Proposition 36, and Drug Diversion. While keeping clients out of jail is the Law Blog's main objective, we are also concerned about recidivism -- to prevent clients from relapsing and being rearrested. Accordingly, we counsel clients to take their rehabilitation seriously, and to be committed to change with a sponsor, a dedication to the 12-step lifestyle, and seeing a therapist on a regular basis. Finally, the following website provides a good introduction to addiction and treatment information http://web4health.info/

Tagged as: drug addiction and treatment, drug crimes defense, probation and sentencing laws

California Laws to Prevent False Convictions

Posted on: June 27, 2007 at 10:07 a.m.

The California Legislature realizes the strong likelihood of false convictions in criminal cases, as reported in the L.A. Times on June 27, 2007. One pending bill is aimed at reducing the number of false confessions. It would mandate electronic recording of interrogations of suspects in homicides and violent felonies who are in police custody. Often the police fail to record statements made by suspects. As a result, officers and detectives are free to suggest whatever they want in front of juries, without the support of a recording. This is very problematic especially in cases where suspects are facing life in prison, or the death penalty. Further, unlawful coercive conduct by the police is known to happen in interview rooms, where the suspect may be badgered, denied contact with family an friends, and even threatened with having own family members investigated. Resulting false confessions have led to numerous suspects being convicted, who were later exculpated based on DNA evidence. Another pending bill would require corroborating evidence for the testimony of jailhouse informants, who have been shown to lie sometimes to receive reduced sentences or other benefits. Informants seeking to get out of jail early have strong motives to incriminate other inmates, and have done so many times in the past implicating innocent individuals. A third bill required that the California attorney general, in consultation with other key stakeholders in the criminal justice system, to develop new guidelines for lineups presented to eyewitnesses to see if they can identify suspects. Suggestive line-ups had led to numerous wrongful identifications, causing innocent people to be sent to prison for many years. Arthur Carmona of Orange County came to Sacramento to testify on behalf of the bills, in front of the legislature. He told committee members how at age 16 he was arrested, convicted and imprisoned for committing strong-arm robberies in Orange County, based on a mistaken identification by an eyewitness. He spent 2 1/2 years in prison before errors were discovered and he was freed.

Tagged as: faq, motion to dismiss unlawful police search

If I am accused of stealing from the company I worked for, can I go to jail?

Posted on: June 24, 2007 at 10:22 p.m.

This criminal conduct is called "embezzlement," and is typically charged in California criminal courts as a violation of Penal Code Seciton 487(a), commonly known as Grand Theft (if the theft exceeds $400). The offense carries a maximum of 1 year in the county jail, or 3 years in prison. If the amount of theft exceeds $50,000, the "Economic Crimes" enhancements are applicable, and the prison time is increased to 4 years and up. The Criminal Law Blog authors have represented many clients charged with "Embezzlement." Where appropriate mitigation is presented to the Court, and the District Attorney, the large majority of our clients have not gone to jail or prison. This is because we worked out alternative dispositions involving community service, restitution, probation, and fines instead of jail. What if the employer wants to drop the charges? The police and prosecutors are usually unwilling to dismiss a case once it is filed, as they are concerned that resources have been expended to investigate, document, and bring the case to court. However, jail or prison are distinct possibilities whenever embezzlement, or other white collar crime charges, are prosecuted in state or federal court.

Tagged as: faq, theft, white collar crime fraud theft laws

If I fail to appear for a traffic ticket or other driving offenses, what are the consequences for my driver's license?

Posted on: June 24, 2007 at 10:12 p.m.

A failure appear reported to the DMV will result in your license being suspended, until this issue is cleared up with the court. Sometimes clients have numerous failures to appear, throughout Southern California. Each of these traffic warrants must be cleared up to have the DMV reissue the driving privilege. Court will notify the DMV once the failures to appear are cleared. So long as the driving privilege is not suspended for any other reason (ie. excessive points, DUI, no insurance), you can receive your license back when you show proof of insurance to the DMV, and pay a license reissuance fee.

Tagged as: bench warrants, faq

What is forensic evidence and how is it used in court?

Posted on: June 22, 2007 at 2:18 p.m.

Typically forensic evidence refers to physical evidence such as fingerprints, DNA, blood spatter, gun shot residue, and ballistics. This physical evidence assists to establish what happened during an alleged criminal act. Some say science is an objective witness, with no reason to lie, no reason to distort the truth, and no biases. Forensic evidence is presented in court through two types of expert witnesses (1) those who gather the evidence and (2)those who interpret what the evidence mean in terms of related scientific principles. For example, criminalists collect blood smears from the crime scene. DNA experts then test the blood in the lab, against available samples provided by a suspect. Criminal lawyers then subpoena the DNA experts to court to establish if someone's genetic materials is or is not present at a crime scene. While pure science does not distort, expert witnesses infuse their subjective opinions into the trial. Their motives are clearly relevant as they are typically financially compensated by the side that calls him or her to the witness stand. Say the Prosecutor calls a government DNA expert at trial to explain that Defendant's DNA was located at scene -- thus establishing that he may be responsible for the crime. In response, the defense lawyers will call its own DNA experts to disagree with these results, or to question the testing methodology. The high-profile Spector trial has experts from the prosecution and the defense battling over how established scientific principles apply to their divergent opinions.

Tagged as: drug crimes defense, faq, jury trial defense

I have been falsely accused of a crime. Does that mean no charges will be filed, and I should speak to the police without an attorney? I have nothing to hide.

Posted on: June 20, 2007 at 1:13 a.m.

Many cases are resolved with police just closing their files, because the evidence of a crime in simply insufficient. The court system does not get involved. However, just as with many things in life, the world is not perfect and police officers do make mistakes. People have been falsely accused of rape, domestic violence, murder, and even drug possession because officers were either making negligent mistakes in their investigation, or intentionally framing suspects, or intentionally lied about probable cause to justify an otherwise unlawful searches of homes, cars, or even someone's person. People have served years in prison, only to be released upon DNA testing. I have heard clients tell me "Hey, I am innocent, I figured I will go explain the events to the police and this will all go away!" Unfortunately they were wrong. At times, police officers are inclined to disbelieve what a suspect tells them, and may not have the time or motivation to fully investigate a client's story. What happens? The next thing the suspect learns is that he is arrested, placed into custody, and does not know to clear his name. The Law Blogger has personal experience with representing clients who are simply innocent -- these are some of the most difficult cases! In sum, someone who is completely innocent may need representation the most.

Tagged as: faq

Will a DUI cause my California license to be suspended? Can I represent myself in Court or in front of the DMV in a license suspension hearing?

Posted on: June 16, 2007 at 9:57 p.m.

One of the consequences of a DUI arrest is a possible suspended license. Possible does not mean definite, and there are numerous ways to get your driving privilege back sooner than later. Many people ask, "Can I just represent myself on a DUI and with the DMV?" While the Law Blog has a definite bias since it is administered by Los Angeles Criminal Attorneys, the Law Blog retorts "would you perform surgery on yourself?" The U.S. Constitution has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court as giving everyone to right to act "pro-per," in other words to represent yourself without an attorney. The Law Blogger was a District Attorney for 10 years, is a law professor, and has been in criminal defense for years. The Law Blog is convinced that pro-pers cannot do nearly as good a job (even if the litigant is a civil attorney who does not have a criminal defense or prosecution background). As a District Attorney, the Law Blog dealt with many pro-pers and saw numerous errors committed by litigants representing themselves. Getting back to license suspension - on a first time DUI, a license is suspended for 120 days. A win at the DMV hearing would prevent a suspension. However, if you are convicted of a first-time DUI in court, the DMV could still pull your privilege to drive. In court, then, the only way to keep your license is to have the DUI charge dismissed all together. If this is not possible, there is a way to get the suspension reduced. You must file an SR-22 with the DMV (ie proof of insurance) and proof of registration in a first-time alcohol program, known as the AB-541. In turn, the DMV will reduce the suspension to 30 days, and return you the privilege to drive with restrictions for 90 days. All this is quite technical and time consuming, especially when you include the continuous legal updates that are taking place in this area of law.

Tagged as: dui drunk driving defense vc 23152, faq

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Prior Criminal Law Posts

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